Anorexic Boy of Delhi
MYTH: Eating disorders only affect impressionable girls from privileged backgrounds.
FACT: Eating disorders can affect people of any age, gender, culture, ethnicity or background. Girls and young women aged 12-20 are most at risk. Up to 25 per cent of cases could be boys and men.
This story was written few years back. We didn’t publish it, because the story teller didn’t feel comfortable sharing his life story on the internet. In the honour of #Nedawareness week 2018, he consented us to publish his story on our blog. In order to seal the anonymity, we’ve made few minor changes to the story.
Anorexic Boy of Delhi
I never speak about my anorexia to anyone. I don’t feel comfortable opening my illness up to someone who has no clue what a mental illness is or what an eating disorder is. In India eating disorders are simply seen as a disease of woman, but it affects men too.
When I was 7 years old, I was told by my mother that I was a mistake.
As a 7 year old, I was surprised to hear such words. My mother meant those words. I was a clingy child, it doesn’t matter how much my mother rejected me, I always wanted to be around her. My mother was in a process of starting the divorce proceedings when she discovered she was pregnant with me. My two siblings also had a very distant relationship with my father. A gulf of class status separated my father and mother. My mother considered herself a modern woman and my father still had his religious upbringing which he stuck to.
My father worked off-seas working in a construction industry. He visited us twice a year for Eid (Muslim festival). Those times were filled with arguments. After 5 days, my father would pack his bags and take me to visit his sister in Gujarat. He called her Bibi ji.
Bibi Ji was a survivor of Gujarat conflict. She made a decision to spend remaining years of her life in service to God and humanity.
We would spend at least a week with Bibi Ji. We would then return to Delhi and then it was time for my father to go back to work. Once he was gone I would see my mother more relaxed.
She would resume her social activities and things would return to normal. I was 10 years old, when my mother finally got my father to divorce her.
My father looked down and deflated. He packed his belongings in one suitcase and went to stay with Bibi Ji .
I was 11 years old when my mother married again. It was supposed to be a quiet affair, but it turned into a large celebration. My new father arranged for a fire work display and the noise of fire crackers was like a sharp pain on my nerves, each explosion was a reminder of permanent loss of my father and a strange man occupying our house.
A panic seized my heart, and I ran around my house in my forced glittery outfit trying to escape the noise. It was the worst time of my life.
Something inside me snapped and I lost my appetite for everything.
I spent next few months in simple hiding. My only sanctuary was the basement of our house. My mother became extremely busy.
With her new husband, she did what she always wanted to do and pursued that path.
There was also a diet culture prevailing in the house. Our cook was always brewing one kind of soup or other in the kitchen. The smell of cabbage was enough to turn my stomach.
My mother also had a tendency to gorge on foods she deemed bad, such as sweets and fried snacks. She had a great weakness for rice dishes. Last week of the month, she allowed herself few cheat days and rest of the days all we had in kitchen was one or other kind of soup. My step father was also on some kind of protein based diet. My sister was a spitting image of my mother and always fretted about her weight and hair.
My brother was addicted to our local gym. It was a weird set-up. The dining table was hardly ever used and breakfast was hit and miss.
I started to develop a dislike for my mother and I would do things she hated just to get her attention.
All of a sudden I wanted to prove a point to her.
My battle with food started then. Soon I was restricting. I picked on my mother’s good food list and started to incorporate them in my diet.
My mother would often say how she admired her colleague who could just survive on XYZ food. Soon I was also surviving on XYZ.
Everyone started to notice my habits especially Bibi Ji and my father. He took me to doctors asking for anything that would prompt me to gain weight.
And that was it, I just couldn’t gain weight. First time in my life I was more powerful. While my mother couldn’t abstain from food, I did. I felt I was getting a power over her.
Our house became a battle ground, now my mother and sister’s focus was to get me to eat.
They managed to get me into a hospital and I was forced into eating.
Few days in hospital, I was given all clear. Back home, soon I was hiding food. I started to wear lose clothes and went more in hiding.
Strangely I was excelling in my studies and I was on top of my class in everything.
I guess things would have further deteriorated, if it wasn’t for Bibi ji and her intervention. She came to Delhi one fine day and raised the alarm with my mother. My mother told her ‘if you think you can take care of him, then take him with you’.
I packed my bags and went with Bibi ji. I never once looked back at the great house in Delhi. I was not even 13 then.
In Gujarat, my Bibi ji started working on me. She picked on all my habits. She discovered food everywhere.
She told me I was her reason to live. Often she would stand by my bedside holding a tray of food begging me to eat.
She called my father and he came. He considered taking me with him over-seas, but I refused.
I had dropped out of school. I was too weak to do anything.
My father took extended leave and together him and Bibi ji spent all their energies on getting me better.
The female psychiatrist I saw was different from any woman I had ever met. She had kindness to herself.
I was diagnosed with anorexia and put on meal plan.
I had never spoken about my feelings to anyone but I did confide in her. My father also sat with me in some sessions. When my father went back over-seas, I was well enough to go back to school.
I left high school with enough marks to make it to good college. My father did get married again and moved back to Guajrat to live in a new house. I stayed with Bibi Ji and that was my choice.
Today as I prepare myself for post graduate studies, I can say that years of therapy has helped me enough to be at a very stable mind and weight.
I haven’t seen my mother in years, and perhaps this explains why I’ve had a recurring anorexia. I often think of life I lived in Delhi, years separate me and my two siblings. There’s a huge distance between us. We never connected. They were teenagers when I was born and my care taker was a full time nanny employed by my mother.
My parents had a difficult marriage. They stayed together for the sake of us.
I was taught to let go of past and focus on present. Focusing on Bibi ji and my father and myself gave me an incentive to live.
And perhaps this is what has enabled me to make it all the way to post graduate studies. I look at the curriculum with great enthusiasm. I can’t wait to start my studies. The credit for recovery goes to my father and my Bibi Ji. Not once they blinked an eye on therapist fee. They told me I’ll recover. The sessions with psychiatrist also enabled my father to open up about his pain and his experiences in life. Together we all healed and helped each other to move forward in life.
I’ve left many things out from this story, but this is my basic story, a story of Anorexic Boy from Delhi and this is in honour of Nedawareness Week 2018.